Friday, January 7, 2022/5 Shevat, 5782 Parashat Bo Exodus 10:1-13:16
Some prayers are so resonant that it is hard to imagine a service without them. Mi Sheberach is one such prayer, even though it didn’t exist in its current form until relatively recently. It originated as a communal blessing in Babylonia, in connection with the Torah services on Mondays and Thursdays. “May God bless all those who come to the synagogue to pray and offer tzedakah,” it read. The blessing quickly took its place as a favorite communal prayer, but only in the 12th century would it be offered to individuals at significant moments in their lives, or when they were in need of healing.
Today, we include the Mi Sheberach prayer for individuals in every one of our Shabbat services, asking God to grant all those who need it healing of body, mind and spirit. We may recite it at home for others and for ourselves. There is power in saying the words of this blessing for a loved one with cancer, recovering from an accident or who is going through a particularly challenging time. There is comfort in knowing that the community is offering this prayer on our behalf when we most need it. The Mi Sheberach prayer was not always popular, but it became so because it reflected a prayer from within our souls that was simply looking for the right words.
And yet, the Mi Sheberach does not contain the right words for all of us. It asks God for a refuah shleimah, a complete recovery, for those who are dealing with acute illness and injury. As we know, not all illnesses are acute.
Over the years, people have asked me what blessing they should say for loved ones who have chronic illnesses which cannot be cured, or progress illnesses that will not improve. The Mi Sheberach did not feel quite right in these circumstances.
Six months ago, Georgia and Gary Freedman-Harvey approached me with an idea. They wanted us to consider commissioning a new prayer for people who find courage and strength to live their best lives with chronic illness. One of my greatest joys as a rabbi has been working with them and the talented liturgist Alden Solovy to commission a prayer that, like the Mi Sheberach, has been needed for some time.
The blessing is called “For those who Endure Chronic Conditions.” It will be a focal point of our Shabbat service on January 21st when the Freedman-Harvey’s will talk about what inspired them to undertake this project. The prayer will also be offered for the very first time at our healing service tomorrow morning at 10 am. All are welcome for a service filled with sacred connection, music, reflections, stories and prayer.
I believe that this new prayer is a source of comfort, inspiration and hope, not only for those of us who dare to fully live with our chronic illnesses but for all those who love us as well. I look forward to sharing it with you.
I hope you have a Shabbat of healing, love, and inspiration.
Rabbi Cassi Kail